Sunday, March 26, 2017

10 Questions with Playwright Rodney Robbins

Virtual Interview with Playwright Rodney Robbins

1. Virtual Reporter: So, tell me Rodney Robbins, what in the world made you write a play made up almost entirely of erotic poetry?

Rodney Robbins: Well, like most cool story ideas, this one is a mashup. One of the first songs I learned on my guitar was "Barbara Allen" about star crossed lovers. I especially liked the ending where a rose grows from the boy's heart, and a brier grows from the girl's heart and together they form a true lover's knot. Then there is the old Irish myth about Bailey and Ailynn, with much the same ending. For probably 20 years, I've felt there was something there, some connection between these two stories.

Then one knight, sitting in the parking lot at Kohl's in Hickory, North Carolina, USA, I was listening to the radio and waiting for my wife to make an exchange. The radio show was talking about The Song of Solomon. If you don't know, The Song of Solomon, also called The Song of Songs, is erotic poetry in the Christian Bible. That got me chuckling about reading erotic poetry in church. Then I wondered what kind of story would make a good excuse for a whole evening of erotic poetry on stage and--BOOM--there it was! The whole story--including The Stranger.

2. Virtual Reporter: Have you been writing a long time?

Rodney Robbins: Well, I won my first writing contest back in the 7th grade, so that's been awhile. It was an Americanism Essay for the Phoenix, Arizona, Elks Club, I think. I college, I won an award for a script I wrote, shot and edited on video. The short was called "Night Walk" and featured a visiting Russian student. After college, I won an award for a video script I wrote about local government. I wrote a novel called "Walking to the Moon," some short stories like, "Kiki--Naked in the Moonlight" and under my mystery novel pen name, Moxie Nixx, I published "Gold Wings are Murder--The Crying Stone." I also have some kids stories with pictures about "Puddle the Pig."

3. Virtual Reporter: As a child, were a big reader?

Rodney Robbins: No. I didn't read my first chapter book until the summer after 7th grade. In first grade, I so hated reading those wretched "Dick and Jane" and "Tip and Mitten" books that I swore off reading forever! That was until my older brother read me "The Hobbit" out loud. Well, that was entertaining, and I got through the whole thing, but it was really long. So, I decided to go back and see if I could read it again, by myself. I finished reading it while laying in my father's green swing in our backyard in Phoenix, Arizona. The next chapter book I read by myself was in 8th grade. It waas "Tom Sawyer." I still feel the influence of those two writers, Tolkien and Twain. I love fantasies, and I can be really snarky.

I also failed Senior English in high school. Huge waste of time. First day of class, the teacher asked me to diagram a sentence. Never done it. Never needed it. This is what I call, "Naming Shadows." Nobody cares! Either your writing says what you want it to say, or it doesn't! If you have nothing important to say, well don't write anything. If you have something important to say, you read over it and ask yourself if it says what you want it to say. If it does, you're golden. If it doesn't, fix it. My Lord, how complicated does this need to be?

4. Virtual Reporter: How big is that motorcycle you love so much?

Rodney Robbins: I ride a 920 pounds, 1,800 cc Honda Gold Wing. This motorcycle has a flat 6 engine, GPS, ABS, cruise control, and a custom sport bike suspension. The best part is that the motorcycle comes with electronic reverse. You just put the transmission in neutral and push the starter button and go. The Wing uses the starter as an electric reverse. Zoom! Works great.

I'm currently working on a book called "Fearless Riding Essentials." It is a completely new take on how to ride a motorcycle using the simplest, strongest, safest, easiest techniques available. It is not like any other book on motorcycle riding that I've ever seen and may cause a big stir. The problem is, most motorcycle classes are taught by former racers, and riding a motorcycle on the street is most definitely not the same as racing a motorcycle on a road-race course, or around racing around orange cones in a parking lot. Street riding is not about speed. Street riding is about seeing what you need to see and staying relaxed on the bars so you can steer the darned motorcycle! Completely different approach.

5. Virtual Reporter: But how can you handle that big motorcycle when you have muscular dystrophy?

Rodney Robbins: Well, I sure couldn't handle a 920 pounds motorcycle without the electric reverse. Could not do it. Period. My mom and I have a rare muscle disorder called Periodic Paralysis. Some days, my strength is nearly normal and I feel young and vital. Other days, my strength fades, or disappears completely, and I feel as old as time. Triggers include heat and especially getting chilled. Also high salt or high carbohydrate meals. Perhaps the biggest trigger is just physical activity. I can usually get through the initial activity, like raking leaves, but when I stop, my muscles start to depolarize and my hands will stop working, or I won't be able to walk well, and once in a great while, I can't even stand up. Those are bad days. I also suffer from Celiac Disease--an allergy to most common grains like wheat. Ask me where that combination of Celiac Disease and Periodic Paralysis comes from.

6. Virtual Reporter: Okay, where does the combination of Celiac Disease and Periodic Paralysis come from?

Rodney Robbins: I suffer from The Curse of Macha. Macha is the Irish Goddess of War. I discovered this while researching my play "Bailey and Ailynn--There Will be Blood!" which is set in Northern Ireland.

The legend says that Macha grew tired of her life as a goddess and longed for an earthly family. So one day, she just moved in with a widowed farmer and his three children. The farmer was no fool, at least when he was sober, and agreed to her one and only condition--that he tell no one about her supernatural speed and magical powers. That worked great and the family prospered. Until one day the High King invited all the important men of Ulster to a feast to show off his new chariot and matched team of black horses. Much drink was shared and the farmer bragged to the high king, and the entire assembly, that his wife, Macha, could run faster than the kings new horses. The king was having none of that, and sent men to drag this mystery woman to the castle. Well, beautiful Macha showed up very, very pregnant and about to give birth to twins. She begged the king to hold off on the race until she had delivered her babies. He told her no, and said that if she didn't race his chariot, he would kill her husband. So, poor Macha begged the men of Ulster to protect her from the king. Instead, they egged the king on--for they wanted to see the race. Not one man, not even her husband, came to her defense. Well, Macha raced the High King, with his new chariot, and his matched team of black horses and she won! However, as she crossed the finish line, she dropped to the earth and gave birth to stillborn twins. Then she stood up and gave the men of Ulster a twin curse: That they would enjoy great strength, but that when they needed it most, their strength would fail them and they would suffer stomach pains and be as weak as a woman in childbirth. Then Macha grabbed her dead twins and ran away--never to be seen again.

So, due to my foolish ancestors (my mother's family is from the Armagh area of Northern Ireland), we still suffer the Curse of Macha. It may be that some weird combination of Periodic Paralysis, in people with Celiac Disease, originate at that time in ancient Ireland.

7. Virtual Reporter: What is it that you like about writing plays?

Rodney Robbins: I write novels too, but I almost think I enjoy writing plays better. Plays are, by their very nature, objective. In most novels, we hear the lead character's every thought. Most people find this makes the experience more meaningful. I often feel the same way when I'm reading a good novel. At the same time, knowing every thought, every feeling, every past event for my lead characters, well, it just takes all the suspense out of it. In a novel, the middle aged guy is wooing the 19 year old girl because she reminds him of his first love, and he would never, ever, do anything to hurt her. We know that because we know every thought in his head. But in a play, we know what he says, we know what he does, but we don't know if he's for real. Does he really love her, or is he just in love with her body? Does he care about her, or does he just have lots of disposable income and she's his new hobby? She doesn't know, and in a play, we don't know either, at least not until the end. I like manipulating the audience and playing with their doubts, and making them wonder, and pushing them to feel for her, and beg them to wonder about him, and all that is easier in a play. In my mystery novel "Gold Wings are Murder--the Crying Stone," I wrote in third person objective. So, I had to reveal how people feel by the actions, but there is always doubt. There is always suspense. I like the suspense.

8. Virtual Reporter: We hear you have a black belt. Can you tell us about that?

Rodney Robbins: Yes, but it may not be what you think. I have a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt from Gemba Academy. Lean is a set of tools for eliminating waste in a process. Six Sigma is a set of tools for eliminating variation. So, I'm a sort of efficiency expert. Works in factories, offices, restaurants, hospitals, even writing studios. It's interesting that I was working on my Black Belt while I was writing "Bailey and Ailynn--There Will be Blood!" You would think writing a play with 25 poems, including Sonnets, iambic pentameter, Pantooms, Tercets and more would be complicated, but when I was spending all day working with people, crunching numbers, and plotting graphs, the play was my refuge! Compared to a big Lean Six Sigma project, writing plays is easy!

9. Virtual Reporter:  Are you a big fan of education?

Rodney Robbins:  I'm a big fan of lifelong learning. At the same time, unless you are in a profession that requires a college degree, won't let you work without it, or won't let you advance without a masters of doctorate, then I think college is a big fat ripoff. My advice for 90% of college students is to drop out, drop out now, drop out before you cripple your financial  independence forever! Do not turn yourself into a wage slave for the US Government with student loans, or allow your parents to spend their retirement money on what amounts to nothing but hype and hot air for you. Everything you want to learn in college can be obtained for free with a library card and an internet connection to YouTube.

I am for professional education, like Gemba Academy, that teaches you real things at reasonable prices. If you want to be a competitive shooter, you might want to take a class. If you are a state certified hair dresser, but want to be a successful salon owner, go to a seminar. If you've reached a plateau with your surfing, and you want to complete on the international level, you might benefit from a hiring a professional coach or a personal trainer. I have no problem with that. But college today offers virtually no advantage to online learning, or book learning, unless you count going to Europe with your friends as a real benefit. I'd say, skip the $65,000 per year college debt, spend $10,000 on an around the world tour, and get a library card. Seriously. I am not kidding.

10. Virtual Reporter: So what's next for you?

Rodney Robbins: My very next project is the "Fearless Riding Essentials" book. That will benefit so many riders who are just working too hard. But I do have another ring of romantic poetry based on an Irish myth and that one will be even more of an emotional roller coaster. Then there is the play about the Incubus who is tired of being a slave, and the Space Witches caught in the eugenics war, and more stories about Puddle the Pig. It's going to be a hell of a ride!

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